NEWS: Thomasina’s Human Zoo (young adult graphic novel)

Hey all. Big big news. Silver Dragon Books, the all agents imprint of Zenescope Entertainment, will be digitally publishing my creator-owned comic book series, Thomasina’s Human Zoo.

Thomasina’s Human Zoo, created by me and Distillum artist Sarah Dill, will be publishing monthly from March - August 2013. After the six issues are out, it will be collected into an original graphic novel that will be solicited through Diamond Previews. I’ll post order codes when it is up in Previews, and will be linking you all to the downloading sites when each issue goes up.

Adventures in Poor Taste spoke with me about the book. Click the link for the whole interview, but here is the Thomasina bit: ”It’s about an orphan girl who lives with her grandma, aunts, and uncles. She was raised on fantasy books like Harry Potter and Narnia, so she sort of grew up with this hope that a wizard would come take her away and show her that she’s magic. That it’s all be worth something and that she’s special. We catch up with her as a teenager, and how she deals with the truth of this tragedy.

"Annnnd then her family gets turned into animals and she has to figure out what the heck is going on. It’s a poignant and silly and heartwarming tale about a girl trying to find herself in a world that keeps making less and less sense."

More info to come!

THE LAST DAY - a short story

by Patrick Shand

She exhaled, cigarette smoke streaming from her mouth.  Though it was August, I instantly thought of winter, when every breath turns to fog before your face.

“Pretty night,” I said, looking up at the starry sky.  I nudged the ground with my sneaker, making the backyard swinging bench rock lightly.

Mackenzie put out her cigarette on the sole of her shoe, and leaned back on the swing, her red hair falling behind it.  The skin of her upper arm rubbed against me as the swing moved.

“It’s alright,” she said, staring into the starry expanse.  “I mean… you’ll never get too much in Long Island.  Stars, I mean.  Too close to the city.”

“It seems like a lot,” I said.

“That’s because you’ve never left Long Island, JF,” she said.  She leaned her head against my chest, and I smelled her perfume—she was wearing the one I liked best—which badly tried to cover the smell of the weed we had smoked.

I chuckled.  “Are you high?”

“Bit.”

She seemed normal—I mean, you could tell when she was really gone, because you’d lose 98% of the food in your house in a period of ten minutes—and I wasn’t that high either.  We didn’t have rolling papers, so I had to rip a page out of a book and roll the weed in that.  When we smoked, we mostly tasted the paper, so I’m not sure how much it could’ve worked.  I did feel off though, as if I were halfway there.  My chest felt tight, like there was a pocket of air caught under my sternum trying to push its way through my bones.

“We should’ve saved it, probably,” I said.

She sat up straight.  I saw in her eyes that she was tired, maybe wanted me to drive her home, but I didn’t want her to leave so I didn’t pursue it.

“I wanna draw this.  The sky,” she said.

“I thought you didn’t think it was that nice,” I said.  

A sly smile made its way across her lips and she stuck her tongue out at me.  “I changed my mind, Troy.”

I couldn’t help but smile too.  I loved when she called me that.  Probably because she was the only person I knew—not counting family, of course—who sometimes called me something other than JF.  The name “Troy” may not be a great name, but hell, it’s better than JF.  People have been calling me JF since fifth grade.  It stands for “Jew fro.”  Not something you’d like to be known for, eh?  I mean, it’s something that even my friends call me, so it isn’t like I go home and cry about it.  It’s just nice to be called something real once and a while.

“Want me to go inside, get a pencil or something? Paper?” I said.  “I could…”

“No, no.  Let’s just sit here.”

“Not a problem.”  And it wasn’t.  Some of the best moments, at least in recent years, were spent sitting here with Mackenzie.  Watching her long red hair spread across the flower-patterned cushion of the swing-bench, like fire raining down on a bed of daisies.  She was beautiful, and I think that I might have loved her, if I even knew what the word meant.  She probably knew.

For a long time, we stared up into the sky.  Every now and then, a plane would pass.  It sort of shattered the image, seeing something man-made careening across the sky, but we still watched anyway.  I’m not sure how much time passed before we saw it, because what happened before and what happened after really doesn’t matter.

Mackenzie and I saw it at the same time.  Mostly, it looked like a clamshell.  A closed, metal clamshell, round but flat.  There was light coming from it, but not the blinking sort of light that comes from a plane.  It was more of a glow, like the white-hot light of a star captured in the sides of this craft.  I stared into the sky, incredulously watching it move, my mind churning at overdrive.

“A balloon?” Mackenzie murmured, but I didn’t answer.  I laid my hand over hers, and she turned her hand over, locking her fingers between mine as we watched the thing in the sky.

I might have believed it was a balloon or some kind of man-made craft if it didn’t move like that.  Its movement was smooth, more like a tiny fish gliding underwater than anything flying through the sky.  It was fast, so incredibly fast, that a blink would cause you to miss half the spectacle.  It was over before we could truly marvel at it; the thing, the craft, glided so quickly into the distance, descending on a downward angle as it went.  At that rate, it would surely crash into the canal just beyond the Northern Woods… But seconds, a minute passed, and I heard nothing.

I was about to say something to Mackenzie, but when I turned to her, I was caught by her excited and incredulous gaze.  Her face said everything.  We couldn’t have seen it, but we did, we did!

For a moment, I’m sure my face said the same thing—I felt it inside, the excitement and a whole shitload of fear—but then, when I looked back towards the sky and saw that it was the same crisp sky as before, I sighed.  “No,” I said, breaking the dazed silence.  “No.  We’re high.”

“Not really.  More like buzzed.  And hardly even that,” Mackenzie said.

“Well… well maybe you were right,” I said.  “It was a balloon.”

“Right,” she said, cocking her eyebrow.  “I’m no, er, ballooneer, but that… did you see the way it…?”

She was right.  I mean, I think she was.  The way it sped across the sky as if it were its natural habitat.  Unlike the plane, it fit into the sky perfectly.  Looked like it belonged.  I might have been wrong, and there might have been some scientist or ballooneer who knew for damn sure I didn’t see what I thought I saw and could prove me wrong, but they didn’t matter.  I was—we were—fairly certain.

I laughed loudly.  It wasn’t a sound of mirth, more like a release of nerves.  I was grinning stupidly.  “I…  That thing was headed down,” I said.  I noticed that Mackenzie was still holding my hand.  I didn’t want to let go, not to get her art supplies or to run from whatever had landed, but I looked at her, my eyes probably big as saucers, and said, “Should we, like, go inside and watch the news or something?  To see if… I don’t know… anything is happening?”

I felt ridiculous saying it.

She shrugged.  “Nah.  Not unless you really want to.  I mean… if something happens, we’ll know.  Probably first.”

“Heh,” I said.  Another expulsion of nerves.  “Kinda scary.”

She leaned back, the strands of her long red hair flowing down the flower-patterned cushion like a river of blood.  “A little.  But mostly not.”

She lit another cigarette and returned to watching the sky.  The tip of it glowed brightly and the tobacco crackled softly as she inhaled.  She giggled, blowing a stream of smoke in my direction.

“Want one?” she asked.

“No, thanks.”

Once again, she leaned back, resting her head against my chest.  She does that often, switching positions and then switching back again.  She tapped my chin with her index finger as if she were knocking on a door.

I looked down at her.  She was looking up at the sky.

“Does it make you feel small?” she asked.

I considered this.  Fact was, it didn’t matter what I may have felt—I was small.  No getting around that.  To the universe, everyone was.  Everyone is small, and everyone is expendable.  What I saw that night pretty much solidified that for me.  But with Mackenzie’s head against my chest, her red hair spreading down from my heart to my lap like blood, none of that really mattered.

“No,” I said.  “It doesn’t.”

“Good,” she said.  “Me neither.”

A Somewhat Personal Response to “The Fault in Our Stars” - Spoilers

It was John Green’s hope that “The Fault in Our Stars” wouldn’t be looked at as a sad book, or a funny book, or a romance book, or a cancer book, but a book that makes you feel all of the things. Well, I can safely say that all of the things were felt. Mantears were shed, laughs were guffawed, lovey scenes were awwwed at, and my brain and heart were moved in ways that very few books are able to move them.

This response will be spoilery. Not incredibly spoilery, in that I won’t reveal that Page 224 exposes August Waters as an aardvark in a very convincing and attractive mansuit (sorry!), but I won’t actively avoid spoilery things. And I will certainly include quotes that may give clues to bits about the plot. Anyway, if you haven’t read “The Fault in Our Stars,” why are you reading this? I promise that John’s novel is way better than the ramblings of a Tumbling ginger.

"The Fault in Our Stars" is a beautiful meditation on what people leave behind when they die. It’s also a journey about perspective and absolutes, because no one will leave behind That One Thing. Hazel Grace, our protagonist and narrator who is unfortunately dying of cancer, starts out the novel thinking of herself as a grenade. This stems from (besides the obvious fact that she’s a teenager with cancer and, even worse, parents) the time she was in the hospital bed, on the verge of death. She, her parents, and the doctors thought she was going. As her parents held her hand, sobbing, she overheard her broken mother whisper to her father, “I won’t be a mom anymore.” Hazel survives that day, living with the knowledge that her parents will never be okay. They may adapt, yes, but they will spend their lives taking care of her, broken because their daughter has cancer, and then they will someday spend their lives not taking care of her, broken because their daughter has died. She’s hesitant to begin a relationship with Augustus Waters, a boy she’s shocked even talks to her, because of her status as a “grenade.” One day, she will detonate… leaving her parents, Augustus, and the lives of everyone else she touched broken. Her journey is one of realization: realizing that she doesn’t have control over those who love her (Augustus: “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you”), realizing that she isn’t the sole reason that anyone is alive (her mom has secretly been taking classes), and realizing that there is too much wonder in the world and in Being a Person to worry about the damage one inflicts on people by dying.

Augustus’s journey is a different (and imperfect) one. Members of his ever expanding harem (I may or may not be included in that - Straight Guys Who Love Augustus Waters Anon?) may argue, but I’m not sure if Augustus ever comes to the same level clarity about his condition that Hazel does. Augustus also has cancer, but has a 80/20 chance of survival compared to Hazel’s status as “terminal.” Augustus, though, is obsessed with dying for something worth dying for. Cancer isn’t something that you fight. Both Hazel and Augustus agree about the lameness of people who say “he/she fought hard” (more on that later), but Hazel is comfortable in knowing that she won’t go down in the history books as An Important Person. Augustus… not so much. Augustus spends his life trying to be exceptional, even using video games as a means to die heroically much to the chagrin of those he plays with, never realizing how truly exceptional he already is. Hazel is often frustrated with how her love isn’t enough for Augustus; he must be loved by the world. And is he to blame? While Hazel’s outlook is the more mature one, Augustus’s is emotional and tragic and so damn real. Everyone wants to live the Life Worth Leading. “The Fault in Our Stars” is at once about the futility of seeking such a life, the fleeting nature of accomplishments that make people worthwhile, and how nothing is ever enough. Those may seem like bleak themes, for sure, but John Green weaves them together with this fondness of life (“personhood”) that will make readers, young and old, relate to both Hazel and Augustus’s internal conflicts.

I used to work at a bookstore where Issue Books were the thing to read. I can’t tell you how many times my boss would gush about Another Autism Book by Sympathetic Author. Those books have their places, sure, but I’m looking forward to seeing what such readers will do when they get their hands on “The Fault in Our Stars.” Before reading it, this book may be mistaken for a Cancer Teens by Other Sympathetic Author, but… heh. John Green, who worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital, dispels the myth that every kid with cancer is perfect, strong, brave, and a veteran/martyr of the war against cancer. Hazel and Augustus are flawed, brilliant, and real humans that aren’t defined by their cancer. They joke about their disease… a lot. They are put-off by the sympathetic looks of strangers and I imagine they’d be put off by the sympathetic eyes of readers who see them as avatars of cancer instead of teenagers.

The character Peter Van Houten, a broken man who wrote Hazel’s favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction,” embodies the idea that even the greatest accomplishments, much like having cancer, do not canonize. I won’t get much into Va Houten, who I often sympathized with more than Hazel and Augustus because of his utter lack of the ability to enjoy life, but he spends his time saying pretty profound things. Often horrific things, too. But for all of the hurt he causes, he also said, “Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves.’ Easy enough to say when you’re a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.”

A few other quotes that made me smile, thing, or… well, feel all of the things:

"You are so busy being you that you have no idea how unprecedented you are."

"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."

"Vaguely pedophilic swing set seeks the butts of children."

"I love you present tense."

"Okay."

And many more.

I’m a proud member of Nerdfighteria (John and Hank Green’s online community of Awesome), but I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Esther Earl, the girl to whom this book was dedicated. Esther passed away in 2010 and, while this book is not based on her life, it is certainly inspired by all that she and other teens with such an imperial affliction go through. I have never known a young person with cancer, but I have known a few young people who have died - one of them who was very close to me. The thought put into this book, the meditations on loss and meaning and life and death, spoke to my memories of that person and how I felt when she passed. It also made me want to use my seemingly unlimited supply of life to do the best living that I can. See, John Green’s books are different than most. They’re entertaining, they made you cry, they make you laugh, and they make you all warm inside. But what makes them different, for me at least, is that they make you want to live to a higher standard.

They make you better.

The only criticism of the book I’ve read (seriously, look at the Amazon reviews - it’s insane) is that the characters are a bit too smart. That their intelligence messes a bit with some readers’ suspension of disbelief. I hear that, and some folks may have a problem with it - me, not so much. John Green has openly said that he likes to write about smart people and, yes, Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are smart as hell. I may even argue, based on the philosophical complexity of their conversations in relation to their age, that they’re geniuses. From where I’m standing, their intelligence never once took away from the genuineness of their characters. Thomas Hardy once said something to the effect of “compared to a real person, even the most complex character is but a bag of bones.” As great a mustache as Mr. Hardy has, I’d disagree; vehemently at that. Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are real. I mean, who can argue with that? They’re alive right now in the pages of “The Fault in Our Stars,” living their brief infinity over and over again.

-

Patrick Shand is a writer of things and stuff. He has written for IDW Publishing (Angel), Zenescope Entertainment (Grimm Fairy Tales, 1000 Ways to Die), Titan Books (Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion: The TV Series, the Movies, the Comic Books and More: The Essential Guide to the Whedonverse), and more. He is currently working on a young adult novel, comic book properties that he can’t yet blab about, and teaching screenwriting at Five Towns College.

Just finished reading @realjohngreen’s The Fault in Our Stars. Beautiful. That’s all I can manage right now.

Just finished reading @realjohngreen’s The Fault in Our Stars. Beautiful. That’s all I can manage right now.

Go Nerdfighters! I’m trying to make 2012 all sorts of productive, so I’m going to dive head first into this Vlogging thing. I thought it was apropos that I begin the vlog on the day John Green’s shiny new novel comes out.